Inspiring Stroies

Sharon’s Journey to the London Marathon 2024

I am lucky.  I have ran the London Marathon twice.  The first time was in 2019.  I had a time I believed I could get and so I trained well and raced it.  I had a fabulous day even with the pressure I put on myself to run a certain time.  The day went well and was right up there as one of the best days of my life.

Does anyone else worry about trying to repeat the unrepeatable?  A holiday?  A meal in a nice restaurant, the perfect marathon?  Will any of it live up to how you remember it?

It did. In fact, it more than did.

As many of us know ballot places are like gold dust.  For this year’s event a record 578,000 people entered the ballot for the London Marathon and although the number of places available is unknown, it is thought to be in the region of 20,000.  The chances of getting in are slim at best.  But there is a chance and last year my luck was in and I happily received the ‘congratulations’ email.  What made this even more incredible was the year before in 2022, no doubt up against similar odds, my husband Huw also got a ballot place.

Huw getting a ballot place was even more fortunate than me getting one.  If my body could handle the training and my mind could handle the pressure, I could try to earn a Good for Age place; I’ve done it before and was successful so I could try again. A GFA place for Huw though was out of the question.  The ballot place was his ‘in’ and he was taking it with both hands.

The problem was, in 2022 we had an Ironman on the horizon and so Huw deferred to this year which not only meant he could focus on triathlon training for Ironman UK in July 2023, but it also gave me another shot at the ballot, a sliver of an opportunity to run it together.

It paid off.  Huw had deferred to 2024 and I got in on the ballot for 2024.  My 50th year.  The stars were aligned!

However, runners can’t have it all.  Huw was plagued with a knee injury from the back end of 2023, we both had Covid over Christmas and then my mostly stable plantar fascia decided to flare up and was unhappy for the beginning of the year.  Our training was patchy to say the least and we found we couldn’t run consistent miles until March.

Three factors kept us going throughout all of this.  Firstly, it didn’t matter what time we did.  Secondly, it was the London Marathon and we were running it together; we were not going to miss it just because we weren’t as marathon fit as we would like to be.  The third factor was we had decided to use our ballot places as an opportunity to raise money for Move Against Cancer Charity.   This changed the whole experience for me.

I am a proud ambassador for the Shrewsbury 5k Your Way, Move Against Cancer group; an active support group for people living with and beyond cancer that encourages people with cancer and their friends and family to meet up on the last Saturday of each month and run, walk, or cheer at Shrewsbury parkrun. I, alongside my fellow ambassadors passionately believe that physical activity, whatever that looks like for each individual can and does improve wellbeing and quality of life.   Science is emerging that not only backs this up but evidence is beginning to show physical activity may increase tolerance to treatment, reduce side effects of the treatment and even reduce the chance of reoccurrence.

Deciding to fundraise for this charity was a no brainer for me but what did worry me was would I get any donations?  I was running a marathon.  A marathon I had done before.  I wasn’t running it carrying a fridge or wearing flip flops running backwards. How could I persuade people to part with their money for doing something I had done before, that I was fairly confident I could complete whilst definitely not wearing a quirky costume or or proclaiming I could do it in a certain time. A distinct lack of jeopardy on my part here.

It turns out, I didn’t need to worry.  Move Against Cancer Charity and 5k Your Way is both relatable and relevant; not to everyone and we are constantly looking at ways to reach those that would benefit but there are a lot of people who have been affected by cancer who are receptive to the idea that movement matters.  Some are the lucky ones like myself who haven’t had it directly but have supported family or friends.  And then there are those that have a personal lived experience of a diagnosis and treatment and the turmoil and anxiety that comes with it.  Offering a supportive network and a safe non-judgmental environment can make physical activity far more accessible.   Secondly physical activity is often cited as a lifestyle medicine used by many to manage an assortment of medical conditions both physical and mental.  The buy in that physical activity makes a difference during a cancer diagnosis is becoming more mainstream. Those that donated wanted to support either Move Against Cancer Charity directly because they genuinely think it is a brilliant charity, or they donated to support Huw and I to enable us to support MOVE.

The donations trickled in.  The messages left with the donation were supportive and encouraging.  Some of the donations had their own personal cancer stories behind them; personal experience is a powerful influencer; a weight I was proud to carry for 26.2 miles. We were grateful for every single donation.

And so with our race numbers proudly pinned onto our 5k Your Way and Move Against Cancer vests we arrived at Red Start in Greenwich and I felt like we had an army of support behind us as the donations and the messages filled my brain.  We were so excited to be running this marathon and despite the lack of time goals or the uncertainty that comes with an Ironman start line, this felt meaningful and significant.

So, the race.  The marathon.  The 26.2 miles.  What was it like? This is not a race report.  I’m not going into details about our fuelling and hydration strategy; we were on it and it worked.  There’s no pacing chat here, no splits, no breakdown of the course.

The marathon was as I remembered; utterly mind blowing.  In fact, to run it a second time with zero expectations on time or performance was not only liberating but if it’s possible, made the experience even more memorable.  After our long runs where we felt we weren’t getting any fitter with me hobbling around on my sore foot, this really was the victory lap and we soaked it all up.  All of it.  The endless messages on the backs of running vests, the bizarre costumes that added a whole new level of endurance to an endurance event, the noise; the constant and relentless yet energising, motivating and invigorating sound of complete strangers shouting your name, willing you on.  I felt invincible.  Unstoppable.  The positive energy surging from the crowds of people was tangible.  I could feel it, hear it, I felt like I could touch it. It was sometimes overwhelming and emotional but mostly it was a wonderfully distracting assault on all the senses.  At any given time, it was hard to feel anything other than exuberance even when you felt a little bit weary; and of course we did, it’s still a marathon!  But any tiredness would soon be forgotten as the senses were piqued again with more extraordinary displays of the best of humankind – both on the course and in the crowd.

Just as we ran over London Bridge at around half way we had the surreal experience of suddenly running alongside a Shrewsbury friend dressed as a flamingo; we hadn’t seen him for ages and yet here we all were sharing a bit of our marathons with each other!  During the later miles we had the additional distraction of looking for friends who had come to support us.  We had a rough idea of where these pockets of our people might be but how we would spot them or hear them was a mystery. These things have a way of working out.   We had support from 5k Your Way; one of our ambassadors and lovely friend and her husband shouted and screamed their support as we went passed; Sarah, next time bring the flag!  A mile or two later one of our very dear friends and her sister somehow made themselves heard; a mass of curly hair excitedly shouting us as we went passed.  Another friend standing by St Magnus Church was so pleased that he had spotted us but not as pleased as were to see him!  And finally, another close friend had ran along the Embankment alongside us shouting our names whilst we were completely oblivious until she wrestled her way to the front for one final attempt at attracting our attention!  I heard her and saw her!!

We crossed the line together with that bittersweet feeling of being sad that it was over, but also relieved we no longer had to run. We trudged happily towards bag drop and somehow managed to meet our tribe; our friends who had come to watch us run past fleetingly.

Another weary but buzzing runner also joined us.  James is another ambassador for our Shrewsbury 5k Your Way group.  He was running the marathon as part of his closure from his cancer diagnosis a year ago.  Happily, now cancer free, James had a difficult run up to London and developed a stress fracture in his tibia amongst other problems.  Meeting James was a highlight for me.  He only joined are group back in September last year.  He fitted in with ease and embodied the whole 5K Your Way ethos.  He quickly came on board as a valued ambassador and now he is a valued friend.  To share a snippet of this incredible day was a privilege. The power of the 5k Your Way community; an irrefutable force for good 💙.

The days post marathon have ticked by in an overriding high, interspersed with gratitude, reliving, pouring over the photos and of course some initially fairly intense DOMS and fatigue.

Both Huw and I feel so grateful for the experience, one that was made more meaningful and rewarding by raising money for Move Against Cancer Charity and being able to make the smallest of differences.